Thursday, January 28, 2010

pardon our appearance

edited to add:  So whaddya think?  I think I like it.

I'm being impulsive and fiddling with the layout.  I'm also supposed to be cooking supper.  And I'm a total luddite.  This might take awhile!

The iTampon Jokes Yesterday Were Inevitable

edited to add:  more on Apple's new "intimate" product (apparently Steve Jobs actually used that word yesterday, with a straight face....)

But it just keeps getting better and better.  I will admit that I am totally intrigued by this new gadget ... but really, doesn't Apple have any women on its design and marketing teams?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Slippery Slope from Same-Sex Marriage to Bigamy

While I spent last summer and fall reveling in my own marriage (see part one and part two of my on-going series, "A Midwestern Marriage"), I pretty much had my head in the sand with regard to most political developments on the marriage equality front (truth be told, I’ve pretty much had my head in the sand about politics in general).  I have, of course, heard that Ted Olson, the conservative lawyer of Bush v. Gore fame, is challenging California’s Prop 8 in federal court, arguing it is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.  I will admit that my somewhat cynical (but not, I think, totally unwarranted) first impression was that this is some sort of conservative plot, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing and all that, because this Supreme Court?  And I still think, yeah, good luck with that.

But I just read The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage by Ted Olsen in Newsweek , and I’m willing to concede that he at least seems sincere (though such deep cynicism is not beneath this Republican party, so if a we'll-show-those-queers, smoking gun GOP memo emerges some day, after the Court firmly establishes that gay and lesbian folks do not, in fact, enjoy equal protection under the law, I just want to go on record now as saying I won’t be surprised).

(edited to add:  read the rest of this essay after the jump by clicking "read more" below)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Resurrection, Redemption and Grace (for Neville)

When I was in college, it took me almost three years to hold onto the concept of “hegemony,” which now seems silly, because it’s not really a difficult concept. And it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept; at any given moment, if I looked it up, or someone explained it to me, I understood it perfectly. But an hour later, it was gone. I just couldn’t hold onto it, and I certainly couldn’t pull it up at will to use it or explain it. I had at best an impressionistic understanding, one that only occasionally came into focus. “Hermeneutics” is another one; I still have no idea what it means. And it won’t help for you to leave an explanation in the comments, because then I will understand it … but only until I turn off my computer. Then it will be gone.

Big theological concepts often feel a bit like that for me. But if I feel a little dumb when I can’t hold onto concepts like “hegemony” or “hermeneutics,” I feel like a downright fraud for having only a tangential grasp on concepts like “grace” and “redemption” and “resurrection.” This is one of the many reasons I love Kathleen Norris’s Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. I come back to these lovely essays about the “scary words” of the Christian faith over and over, not so much to set difficult ideas firmly in my mind, but rather precisely because what Norris gives me is permission to claim them even in the fleeting, “hope is a thing with feathers” sort of way they dwell with me.

Mostly I don’t so much understand big theological concepts as I experience them. And the thing is, whether you understand it or not, sometimes grace can just wash over you. Sometimes redemption can grab hold of you in an instant and deliver you from a captivity you didn’t even know you were dwelling in. Sometimes resurrection looks you right in the eye in the form of a teen-age boy, now a grown man, who revisits you across the decades through the magic of social networking.

Last night I got a Facebook friend request from Neville Stephens (that’s not really his last name, btw), a name that rang a bell, but which I couldn’t immediately place. Julie said, “Didn’t you have a student named Neville Stephens?” Right. Our mutual friends were two other former students, so of course I immediately accepted.

I’m now Facebook friends with several of my former students from my brief foray as a high school English teacher in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in Hancock County, Indiana. First was Radley; I found him at the Cato Institute when I was doing background on a potential donor to my kids’ school. I shot him an email; awhile later he wrote back, apologetic about the delay. I was actually in Indiana when I received his email, in a Holiday Inn Express, at Julie’s Nanna’s funeral. I was just miles away from Eastern Hancock High School, and his kind words about my influence on his intellectual life were most certainly a sort of grace, a totally unexpected affirmation from the least likely of sources. I’ve been a huge fan of Radley’s ever since, and will always be grateful for his thoughtfulness that began to redeem what was mostly a painful and difficult time in my life. I may have been miserable, but apparently it was not all for naught.

But miserable I was, for so many reasons. In no particular order, there was the fact that my introverted, anxiety-prone, bookish self was exquisitely ill-suited to a career teaching adolescents; there was the war, about which I held a distinctly minority opinion among my colleagues; there was my mother’s death at the end of my first year, the great trauma in my life, still; and then there was that toxic closet, which permeated everything. All around a bad combination. When I look back on those three years, my misery seems almost unremitting.

So I was happy to hear from Radley that something good had come of all that misery. And when I became Facebook friends with Shawn and Amy and Webb and Todd, I had a similar experience. “Miss Rose! [“Marta” I have to correct them every time] It’s so nice to be in touch! Thank you so much for trying to open our minds there at Eastern Hancock, you really did make a difference!” Nothing begins to redeem misery like this sort of unexpected and undeserved kindness and generosity. Especially since not one of them seems particularly freaked out by my life (not my lifestyle, Todd … it’s just a life, and so is yours! Though yours probably has more style, come to think of it… ;-)

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting on Facebook with my boy Cory, whom I sit with at church, while Julie is conducting the choir (Michael, my friend and pastor, says new folks probably think we’re married, ha!). He’s a new friend, and very dear, a Hoosier no less. I adore him. While we were chatting, he told me that Autumn, one of his childhood chums with whom he is Facebook friends, recognized my name on his page because she had also seen it on Amy’s page.

“Autumn?” It took me a minute. “As in Asha’s older sister? Really, you knew Asha?” What a small world, huh? Asha isn’t on Facebook, but I immediately chatted up Amy and caught up on Asha’s life.

Redemption all over the place. I may have been miserable, but these kids? Well, they’re not kids any more, for starters, and what’s more, they appear to have grown up to be fabulous human beings. Very rewarding and heartwarming, let me tell you.

So I was happy to get Neville’s friend request, in much the same way I was happy to hear from all of them. Neville was a great kid. They were all great kids. His photo, though, it didn’t look all that familiar. People change, as it turns out, quite a bit between their mid-teens and their mid-thirties. Someone else commenting on his wall thought so too: “Neville, what happened to your long hair?”

And then it all came back to me: resurrection, redemption, grace, all in one fell swoop. Because suddenly I really remembered Neville. I really saw him, his fifteen-year-old self, with his long blond hair and the fabulous smile and a certain open-yet-shy sort of head-ducking, looking-out-from-under-his-eye-lids gesture that was so, well, Neville. Like his young self was standing right there in front of me.

Michael recently preached a beautiful sermon about bodies (one of my favorite topics) and resurrection, which threw me for a bit of a loop at the end, because he proposed that resurrection is not really a metaphor, that our resurrections will be bodily and unique, right down to the expressions on our faces and our quirky personalities and the very gestures that make us unique. I loved this sermon right up until that point, when I fell right into fretting about being a fraud. Because resurrection as not-a-metaphor and not-a-symbol is not-so-much something I can easily wrap my mind around. A couple of days after that sermon, I made Michael go for a walk with me and quizzed him about it. We walked around the block in the sunshine, my first limping excursion of any distance since my last bout with plantar facsiitis. I was in a funk, and a walk in the sunshine and my new fancy running shoes with my pal Michael was certainly a resurrection of sorts. His further explanation of his sermon was helpful, too, but still I was left mostly scratching my head.

I still don’t really understand the end of Michael’s sermon, but this morning, when a flood of Nevilleness washed over me, I certainly experienced resurrection in just the way Michael proposed: specific, quirky, bodily, right down to the very gestures and expressions that make Neville himself. I have experienced this before: fifteen-year-old Radley is pretty easy to recall too, but here’s the thing (and I trust that Radley would take no offense): there’s not so much redemption or grace in recalling a fifteen-year-old Radley in all his smirky particularity. The redemption of Radley is in knowing he turned out to be a fine human being, a good man, someone who does important work in the world.

The difference was that my experience of Neville, resurrected, recalled for me that my time at Eastern Hancock was not all misery. Neville appears to have turned out to be a fine human being, like most of my former students I’m sure, one that I will be happy to know and be friends with, on Facebook and perhaps even in real life. But the gift that has redeemed those years like no other is in recalling – so specifically, so particularly, so vividly – how much I adored him, then, and how happy it made me, then, to know him.

In the two pages Kathleen Norris devotes to “Grace” in Amazing Grace, she recalls the story of Jacob, who, as Norris tells us, “has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance. But,” says Norris, “God’s response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins but to give him a blessing.” Upon waking from his dream, Jacob responds, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” Grace, suggests Norris, is in realizing that God is with us even when we don’t know it. “Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us and bless us….” (pp. 150-151)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's for Dinner? Curried Apple-Butternut Squash Soup and Cabbage-Carrot-Beet Salad

Folks ask me for recipes a lot, so I'm going to start posting some of them. If you don't love food .... well, poor you. Because good food? Good food is on a short short list of life's greatest pleasures (and I'll send a yummy care package to anyone who can guess the other six. The Seven Greatest Pleasures in Life According to Marta. Sorta like the Seven Deadly Sins.... hmmm. Aren't there also Seven Virtues? Hmmmmm.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, food. I just read Michael Pollen's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you've been meaning to read Michael Pollen ... well, you really should read Omnivore's Dilemma, because it's awfully good. But if you're not going to (though you should, really you should), read Food Rules instead. It will take you half an hour. Forty-five minutes if you're a really slow reader. Food Rules is Pollan's explication of his own seven-word (seven again!) answer to the question "What should we eat?" Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

Here are some of Pollan's 63 Rules that I particularly like:

#3: Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

#7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.

#13: Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

#20: It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

#27: Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.

#39: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

#43: Have a glass of wine with dinner.

#51: Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

#53: Serve a proper portion and don't go back for seconds.

#55: Eat meals.

#63: Cook. (That's my favorite, I think.)

Speaking of cooking, here's what we had for dinner:

Curried Apple Butternut Squash Soup
(this is from my brother and sister-in-law; we had this for Thanksgiving, minus the butter)

Cut two butternut squashes length-wise and put then cut-side down on a cookie sheet with a little water. Bake in a 350 degree oven until soft.

Saute two small or one large finely chopped yellow onions in 4 tablespoons of butter (yes, butter!), along with 4 or 5 (or 6) teaspoons of curry powder or paste and two or three cored, peeled, chopped apples until soft, about 25 minutes.

Add three or four cups of vegetable stock (I made my own today, with roughly chopped parsnips, onions, carrots, cabbage, a bunch of old parsley, some bay leaves, and a tea ball full of thyme, rosemary and peppercorns) and a cup or two of apple cider.

Scoop out the squash and add to the pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring the whole thing to a boil and let it simmer for a little bit.

Blend it all up with your immersion blender (and if you don't have an immersion blender? Get one! Everything is better with an immersion blender).

Serve with grated apples and/or a dollop of sour cream or just a scoop of soft butter if that's all you have.

Cabbage-Carrot-Beet Salad with Caraway and Cider Vinegar
(I made this up)

Boil two large or three or four small beets until soft, and then peel and cut into cubes or sticks.

Slice up a quarter-or-so wedge of green cabbage and saute in a couple tablespoons of butter, along with some kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Grate a carrot or two into the cabbage as it cooks. Grind up some caraway seeds (maybe a tablespoon or so) with a mortar and pestle and add to the cabbage. When the cabbage is a little soft but not totally wilted, add the beets, a little more whole caraway, and a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar. Toss and cook for a few minutes until everything is warm and pink. Serve warm or room temperature.

The Lexicon of Social Networking (by my boy Patrick)

I was in a grumpy mood this morning (just ask my family), but this snapped me right out of it. Patrick is one of my boyz and I do love him. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm scheming a trip to New York to sit in his Harlem apartment and write for a few days. Soon. In the meantime, I'm trying to pound my way through a list of onerous tasks that I keep putting off because, well, they're onerous. But I'm pretty sure I will feel so much lighter when they are done. So, more soon, but in the meantime, enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver (2009) (*****). Taking a page out of Gordon’s book, I gave this to Julie so that I could read it. I justlove Barbara Kingsolver’s stories. This one actually took me about one hundred pages to really get hooked – a day on jury duty did the trick (law school and five miserable years practicing law is a high price to pay to never again get chosen for a jury, but it works; on top of that, I actually loved law school, so I guess the get-out-of-jury-duty-free-and-read-a-book-all-day card is really a bonus, not consolation). The Lacuna is structured as a collection of diaries, letters, newspaper articles and congressional testimony, assembled by Violet Brown, the secretary of Harrison Shepherd, a popular writer of romantic adventure novels. Shepherd is the product of an ill-fated marriage between an American government bureaucrat and a Mexican woman who leaves her husband and returns with the twelve-year-old Harrison to Mexico, in the futile search for a wealthy man to marry and keep her. While living on the hacienda of a rich oil man, and without any school to attend, Harrison swims in the ocean, reads adventure stories, learns to cook from the kind Mexican chef, and writes everything down in the little account book he steals from the housekeeper. From the chef he learns a technique for making perfect pan dulce with European white flour, a skill that turns out to be similar to mixing plaster, which lands the young Shepherd a job with the muralist Diego Rivera. Shepherd eventually joins the staff at the Rivera-Kahlo household, first as a cook and later as a typist. When Lev Trotsky, in exile and fleeing Stalin’s assassins, joins the household, Shepherd becomes his typist. I wonder if this section of the novel would have been quite as intriguing if I hadn’t recently read a biography of Freda Kahlo; at any rate, I’ve always suspected I was born in the wrong decade of the twentieth century, and should have been a bohemian communist, not a middle class housewife. At any rate, I loved the quiet, quotidian portraits of these larger-than-life figures, as seen through the eyes of the understated Shepherd (even while I suspect that the portrait of Trotsky might be a bit overly-sympathetic -- I might have to read one of the new biographies of Trotsky soon). When Trotsky is assassinated, a deeply traumatized Shepherd returns to war-time America, settling in Asheville, North Carolina, where lives a largely reclusive life, forever bemused by his own wild success as a popular novelist. That success turns sharply sour when Shepherd is brought under the surreal scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which ruins his life and career on account of his former associations with Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky. Among the intriguing questions The Lacuna asks is whether and how is it possible to capture a life in words, and how differently it gets captured, depending on ones perspective. The Lacuna is the intriguing story of a life, one lived in the shadow of the epic political drama of the twentieth century. But it is a life filtered through multiple lenses, unintentionally told, in which, as the title suggests, what is left out – the missing pieces – are likely as important as what is left in. The relationship among words, silence, story and truth are intriguing to me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Post: Appreciating Others' Religions As Well As Your Own

NOTE: This sermon was delivered by the Rev Dr Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church, on Sunday, January 10, 2010. Like Old First Reformed UCC, Judson Memorial is an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ. Donna Schaper was one of the clergy arrested along with Michael in protest of Jean Montrevil's detention and threatened deportation. I am still praying and fasting for and with Jean. You can also help by signing this petition demanding his release. If you would like any more information, leave me a comment, and I will get right back to you.

This sermon is posted here with Donna's permission.

When we woke up in our several beds on the morning of December 30, 2009, we were one people. Now we are a different people. One of our members, Jean Montrevil was detained at his regular check in and first put in a detention center on Varick Street, right down the street from our solemn assembly. He was later moved to the detention center in York, Pennsylvania where he now resides, precariously perched on the tip of deportation from his country, my country and your country. For the details of this captivity, please come this afternoon for the gathering at 2 or refer to the web site. There will be several people at the welcome table who can give you a thumbnail sketch of this injustice, which is a dam in the river of justice and blocking the flow of the everlasting streams.

I have a problem this morning because all of you are on different learning curves on this egregious manner. Some of you know how these things can be, how a father of four and husband of one can be summarily and unjustly uprooted by the state. Others are just figuring it out. My own husband, who is intimate with me and with this matter, asked me in a quiet moment yesterday, can you explain to me how this could be happening? I heard his plea and while I can explain it legally, I cannot explain it morally What is happening is just plain wrong, in addition to being stupid. Like the government’s current intention to not even allow some immigrants to BUY health insurance, Jean’s captivity by the state is stupid, impractical, uneconomical and risks putting a whole family on welfare, which welfare the same punitive tax payers who want to be safe above all, will end up paying for. Immorality joins stupidity in this potential deportation.

Rev Eleanor Harrison, Rev Susan Switzer, C.B. Stewart and Rev Sherrilynn Posey arrested Jan 7, 2010, as part of nonviolent civil disobedience demanding the release of nationally renowned immigrant rights leader, Jean Montrevil

Still others of you are here for the first time, hoping for some kind of spiritual experience to get you through your week, which is filled with its own detentions and captivities. And others of you are remembering that you joined 17 others in being arrested this week; outside of Varick Street, and that you have a court date on March 8. We are necessarily in different places of involvement in something, which at one level is just another oppression of another good person. You may care more about the homeless woman who shivered on your step last night or the fact that you can’t yet get health insurance. You may be more involved with your own addiction or the early failure of your New Year’s resolutions. Forgive me if I overdo one matter on behalf of creating a spiritual floor for us.

Today I want to stick to my topic, which is about appreciating our own religion in the midst of many competitors for our spiritual attention. Jean is one doorway to all the rest, including the doorway to things, which you may think are small, compared to his grievance.

Today we need to connect the dots. Yes, that is what the President said; we must connect the dots in order to be secure. One of the dots is Jean and the thousands like him, already detained. Another of the dots is the way our own religions are too pathetic to stop injustice. Another of the dots is the way we are overwhelmed with clusters of injustice. There is a good word for this cluster, and some of you know what I mean. It is like cluster freight or a cluster of fears or a cluster you fill in the blanks. The American people are experiencing a tsunami of trouble; so fierce are its waters that we can barely gather our forces to focus on one. But, and here starts the good news. We have gathered with hundreds of others this week to face what has happened to Jean and to say no to it. For a brief update on the situation, just let me say that we have a legal, political and spiritual glimmer of hope right now that Jean will not be deported. It is only a glimmer. But it is a glimmer. Again, I don’t want to get into the details of that glimmer so much as to announce that there is a glimmer. You may clap now.

The spiritual floor for this glimmer of hope in the face of the cluster of fears starts now. It begins with the text from the prophet Amos which has God announcing how sick God is of pathetic religion. Pathetic religion is a bunch of rituals which are empty. Pathetic religion is a bunch of symbols without any relationship to human reality. Pathetic religion is frequently the victim of nationalism or state security. Many of us are triple agents in these terms. We say we are Christians but we are more pantheistic than not, more nationalistic than not. When the president, whichever president, it matters not, implies that the purpose of the state is to protect us from dangerous others and we bow down in compliance, we are singing noisy songs or banging out music on bad harps. We have burnt offerings and grain offerings but no resistance to the lie. Let’s start with the big lie that is the basis for Jean’s captivity. The big lie is that we can fight off terrorism by deporting people or having more wars or better-organized national security agents. Terrorism will not be fought off by torture or war or deportation. Justice rolling down like waters, internationally and not just domestically, will tame terrorism. When righteousness comes, people will stop bombing us Religion that lets itself be lied to by the state is not religion at all. It is triple agent religion, saying it believes in the power of an almighty God who is our only security and whose laws is our delight but actually doing whatever the state tells it to do. At the heart of Jean’s situation is the absurdity of our foreign and domestic policy regarding terrorism. Of course it is scary when people get bombs on airplanes or penetrate the security systems we idolize. Very scary. If we really wanted to stop that kind of terrorism, we would not house potential terrorists together for years in Guantanamo so they could cook up better plots and more hates. We would not torture, hoard, or kill.

We are in a religious fight here at the deepest of levels. We hear a God who is international, and not just American; tell us that there is no delight in our solemn assemblies, bunt offerings, grain offerings, and fatted animals. Instead this God wants one thing and that is for justice to roll down like mighty water. When that justice rolls down, we will be safe, saved, secure, and know salvation. Until that justice rolls down, there will be fights over security. At the deepest level of religion, we are not interested in our own petty safety. We are interested in it, of course, but we are more interested in justice for all and to just for ourselves. Some people have decided they need to be afraid of Jean, who did two crimes, as a youth, paid for them in prison, and now is paying again for them. Why be afraid of Jean? Because we are so deep in a cluster of fear that we don’t know how to get out. This cluster of fear will soon keep immigrants from getting health insurance. It has already drained the national treasury in undeclared and immoral and ineffective wars. If we want to connect the dots, we need to connect the dot of Jean’s oppression ot the national insecurity state.

The great sociologist, C. Wright Mills said, “The biographies of men and women, the kinds of individuals they variously become, cannot be understood without reference to the historical structures in which the milieu of every day life are organized.” Jean is right now the victim of historical structures, which now organize every day life, which structures are at their base petty. By petty I mean self-serving, selfish, and deeply nationalistic. Americans were attacked, Americans need to protect themselves, we are deserving of any kind or level of protection because we are the best of all people. God is laughing at this. Just laughing but in that painful kind of laugh which goes to tears of shame. There is nothing mighty about a river that flows only for one kind of people. It is actually terribly weak and invites others to attack it.

I said that Jean has a glimmer of hope right now. This congregation has worked tirelessly for over two years to work the system to make sure this captivity did not happen. It has happened. We are deeply sad when not just plain apoplectic. Because of this grave emergency, our efforts have quadrupled in size. We have been joined by a national movement that has said enough, enough, and enough. We have corralled and lassoed every political person in New York City who we could find. We have sat in on the street. W e have put up an enormous web site. 78 organizations have joined our efforts officially. We have talked to dozens of people in the press. Riverside Church has called an emergency council meeting for today to decide about whether they want to offer physical sanctuary to some of our other families who are equally endangered. Our glimmer is lighting up the hearts and faces of thousands of Americans who like us are tired of triple agent religion. Triple agent religion is pathetic and just keeps shifting its loyalties in a kind of espionage of spirituality. Something different is happening here. We are getting focused, not just on one man but also on how the injustice done to him is the link to the cluster of injustices our nation faces.

Rev Dr Donna Schaper getting arrested, as part of nonviolent civil disobedience, at Jan 5, 2010 rally to Free Jean

So let me summarize here with my little scaffolding about religion and its imposters. Religion that does not demand justice is not religion. It is triple agent religion. It is spiritual espionage and pathetic in its loyalties. Religion that does demand justice has deep action at its heart. By deep action I mean action that connects the dots between one man’s captivity and that of a nation’s heart and soul. Deep action reveals the apostasy of solemn assemblies that don’t do justice. Deep action shifts power, and we are experiencing the ever so slight shift of the tectonic plate. Ever so slight it is but it is shifting. And we are the shifters. We are shifting because we have been shifted, shifted to see how wrong our efforts at national security are. Once we have seen that, we can’t not see the rest. We will not be safe till others are safe. Deportation will not make people safe. Welcoming immigrants and growing a great openhearted nation will make us safe.

There is now a national movement for Jean, and you are at the heart of it. I almost want to do a roll of honor but that would sound too much like the noise of a solemn assembly. But I must give a few images of the shifting. Our offices were so full of humming computers and people all week that we got a message from our internet people. We are only paying for ten on line experiences at a time and had gone over our band width limit. When we explained why to the person with the concern, he said, “wow, that’s great.” Lenny Fox made sure we got the microphones for the rallies, which was no small thing. Many of you shivered through them.

I have always wanted to be like Leo Lionni’s Frederick. You do know Frederick, don’t you? He is one of the great children’s book’s characters. Frederick saves colors for the other mice so that in the winter they don’t get to grey. There is a ton of color happening in and around us right now. Watching Clover Vail be put into the police paddy wagon, I just wanted to paint the contrast of her white plastic hand cuffs and grey coat. One of the police officers took a good look at Lulu Fogarty and said he was thinking about coming to Sunday School himself. My assigned cop realized I had come out of my cuff links with ease and said, just put them back on when you get out of the paddy wagon. It’s all for the show, you know.

Jean and his US citizen wife and US citizen children

In DC on Friday, with one of our board members, Father Mark Hallinan, Janay Montrevil and her three kids. At one point, when Janay told her story to a congressional aid, she started crying. Then Father Hallinan started crying. Then the children started crying. Then the aid started crying. This is what we mean by spiritual transformation. We have begun to shed tears over the stupidity. The tears are the mighty rolling river of justice.

At another point, on what seemed to be our sixteenth security check, going from house office building to house office building, and Craig was carrying one of the kids, whose jackets and scarves we had to keep taking off, and we were all getting bored with the “who gets to push the elevator button” game, Jamiah said, “Where’s Daddy?” I knew Jean was with us in spirit and if anything just shocked and awed that we have put together so much energy for him this week. I think we are a little shocked too. Articles in CNN, Sunday School teachers in jail because how could she face her children, knowing that their father had been detained? Sequential arrests by people who didn’t know each other at all but now do. Money raised to keep our staff going..yes you may contribute.

Amusing things happened in each congressional office. At one point, Jamiah was wearing one of Charlie Rangel’s African masks in his office, as our legal back up team in New York was sending us non stop messages on our several blackberries. At the last hour on Friday, by the work of 7 of us in DC and literally dozens behind us on the net in New York, the same dozens who had been working all day and all night all week, we were told that Jean would not be deported on Monday. New information and new legal efforts are at work. That is our glimmer.

On the way home on the train Josiah totally took apart in the large ball of rubber bands someone had given him to play with. They were all over the train, amusing our entire car. This ball of rubber bands gave me the image of community with which I want to end. Somebody added one of those rubber bands at a time to the large circled web that it was. That was our action all week.

If you don’t want to be a triple agent in your religion, feigning commitment to a justice oriented God but living by the state’s self-protecting rules, all the while telling people you are spiritually drained and that you need a shift, stretch yourself now and join our ball of energy. Wrap yourself around it. We won’t let Josiah pull you off…. and some day maybe we’ll have the joy of taking all our parts off the center of this activity and putting them back together in a different way. For now, please stretch. Stretch to see one glimmer of justice that might grow into a flame. For now do us the favor of not snapping or popping or stretching yourself too far. There is a cluster freight of stuff trying to keep you down, trying to break your spirit, trying to sell you lies, lies that are actually very dangerous to you as well as being dangerous to others. For now every time you go through one more security check, ask yourself where your true security lies.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fasting with Jean Montrevil

The first time I ever fasted, I was a freshman at Earlham College. I was taking a course called Intro to Philosophy: Food Ethics, a course that changed my life in many good ways. My study group – a bunch of hippies interested in sustainable agriculture way before being interested in sustainable agriculture was trendy --- decided to try a one-day fast in solidarity with hungry people around the world. We didn’t really have any idea what we were doing – we had no sense of fasting as a spiritual discipline or even as political action. We were just earnest and angry, all at the same time, and thought somehow that fasting for a day made sense. I think we imagined, naively, that fasting would give us some feel for what it is like to be hungry. We fasted for one full day -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- all the way to breakfast the next morning. By then we were utterly clear that we had no idea whatsoever what it is like to be hungry. We had spent almost the entire day obsessed with food and talking about how good breakfast was going to taste. We were earnest, but we weren’t dumb: it wasn’t even lunchtime of our fast day before we realized that people who are truly hungry don’t get to break their fast at the college cafeteria after just a day. We even thought about giving the fast up, but the only thing that seemed more absurd and privileged than thinking we would know something of hunger after a day of fasting was giving up the fast before even a day had passed. So we kept our fast, absurd as it was. But for many years, I spurned all thought of fasting as silly and naïve.

After my conversion to Christianity, I became interested in fasting as a spiritual discipline, rather than as an act of solidarity. One year during Lent, I made a discipline of fasting one day a week, but usually only from dinner to dinner, skipping just breakfast and lunch. For much of my fasting during that Lent, I probably couldn’t have articulated very clearly why I was fasting, or what it meant to me; certainly now, years later, I am even less able. But I recall that then, as now, prayer was difficult for me; I often felt empty and shallow when I tried to pray with any discipline. Yet I imagined somehow that my fasting was a sort of prayer, and that was comforting. That hungry feeling that made me yearn to be filled, that heightening of my senses, that in-the-moment awareness my hunger gave me – I imagined that true prayer might be something like that. It was a good fast that Lent, even if I didn’t completely understand why.

I’ve been thinking today a lot about Jean Montrevil, a man I don’t even know, a man I had never even heard of before a couple of days ago. I am moved deeply by his plight, and by his hunger strike. But I know his is the plight of so many families who have been torn apart by draconian immigration policies in this country. And I know that the movement to change such policies is just one cause among so many -- too many -- in the world crying out for action and justice. And yet I am feeling called to fast in solidarity with Jean Montrevil. Not a hunger strike, of course, but perhaps one meal a day until he is free.

Before you even say it, I know: This is absurd. Impulsive. Trendy maybe. And unlike when I was earnest and eighteen years old, I have no thought that missing one meal a day would in any way change Jean Montrevil’s situation, or even help me to understand what it might feel like to be separated from my family and faced with deportation for no good reason at all. That is all beyond my imagination, and would be far from the point of a fast in solidarity with his hunger strike.

But I have come to believe that prayer makes a difference, even though, like my first spiritual fast during Lent, I can’t really explain how or why. Still, I feel called to pray … yet most often, painfully unable to do so. Perhaps fasting is the prayer I can offer now.

But why Jean Montrevil? Why fast with and for him, when there are so many other people, so many other causes? No good reason, I guess. Jean Montrevil happens to be the man I am thinking about now, and trying to pray for. He could very easily serve as a proxy for so many others who need and deserve our prayers, but who will forever remain nameless and faceless. I doubt he would mind.

So here is my prayer, for Jean, and for his family, and for all immigrants facing the threat or the reality of families torn apart: in solidarity with him and with them, I will fast one meal each day until Jean Montrevil is released from detention and reunited with his family.


Support Immigration Reform and Jean Montrevil

edited to add: photo by Tom Martinez

Yesterday Michael Caine, pastor of Old First Reformed UCC, was arrested at a rally for Jean Montrevil, the Haitian father of four American-born children, who was recently detained during a routine check-in. Montrevil has lived in the United States as a legal permanent resident since 1986. He is a leader in the immigration reform movement and a national spokesperson for the Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 182), a House proposal that would bring due process into the deportation system by allowing immigration judges to consider the best interests of American children before deporting a parent. Montrevil is purportedly being detained and threatened with deportation for a 1989 drug conviction, for which Montrevil served eleven years in prison. He has had a clean record since his release.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Sonnet for Auntie and Jean Montrevil

Upon a hill, wind-swept and bitter cold,

in milky light of bleak mid-winter’s sun,

we buried Auntie in the frozen wold,

in sure and certain hope, Thy will be done.

Small fingers twined, enfolded in small hands

Is this the church? Is this the steeple tall?

Is this the Shepherd on the hill who stands

with rod and staff to comfort people, all?

At Varrick Street and Houston, down they lay.

No pastures green, just biting wind, pale sun.

Forgive us, Father, of our debts, we pray.

For Brother Montrevil, Thy will be done.

A table set before my enemy;

In paths of righteousness you leadeth me.

Monday, January 4, 2010


For so many of my friends, 2009 was just a terrible, terrible year. I know all-too-well how eager they are to cast it off and move forward into better days. Two thousand and eight was that year for me – the year that still makes me shudder to think of it. A year ago I was carefully and deliberately pulling myself out of a pretty fragile state, and while I felt tentative, I also felt hopeful, and ever so grateful, as one does on the upswing after depression. And as it turned out, 2009 was one of my best years in memory. It really was just bathed in sunlight and lived with arms wide-open. I pray for exactly that sort of year-to-come for all of my dear ones who have suffered so much in 2009.

And I would ask for you to keep me in your prayers as well. It feels so much more foolish and vulnerable to bare one’s soul on a public blog when one’s skin is feeling a bit thin and one’s soul is feeling a bit punky, but it also seems the only honest thing to do, doesn’t it? And the truth is that exactly a year after I started climbing out of the depression of 2008, I fear I’m crossing paths with myself on a downswing, tentative again, but this time with a blush of dread and foreboding. I promised myself a year ago that I would never let myself crash as hard as I did in the spring and again in the fall of 2008. Check in with me again in a couple of weeks, will you? Nobody I love can afford to have me fall that far off the deep end of depression and anxiety again. So I’m going to focus on taking care of myself in the next few weeks, and see how it goes. If I still feel this punky, I will seek some help. Promise.

In the meantime, I think part of my despond has been precipitated in the past week by the serious, painful, debilitating return of plantar fasciitis. Our trip to Ohio and a death in the family (Julie’s Auntie – I will write more about that soon) have made it difficult to do some things I know will help – get a really good new pair of shoes, get orthotic inserts, get a foot brace for sleeping, get to yoga, and stay off my feet for awhile. Auntie’s funeral is tomorrow; the new washing machine comes Wednesday; Thursday I’m off to the Bryn Mawr Running Company (and how much do I love the young man at Dick’s Sporting Goods who advised me this afternoon that no, the top-of-the-line shoe Dick’s carries is not as good as the even-more top-shelf shoe recommended by the American Academy of Podiatrists, where my research earlier in the day had landed me. This lovely young man urged me, in the interests of my foot-health – and, little did he know, my mental health – to pay a visit to the real running professionals at the Bryn Mawr Running Company. Which I am going to do on Thursday.) So, I’m not entirely without hope, but I’m pretty despondent. Running, especially running outside in the sunshine and fresh air, especially in the winter, is pretty much my first and best mental-health maintenance strategy. In the meantime I’m going to join a gym for a couple of months, but it’s just not the same. Sigh. Getting back to yoga will most certainly help, as will my plan to add in Pilates once a week. Still, this pain in my heel is a big old pain in the ass.

I’m also pretty sure that my funk is largely hormonal. Which doesn’t make it any less real, at least as I experience it, but it does make it feel a little less like something that is entirely in my control to pull myself out of by sheer force of will. I’m not surprised that menopause is calling me so early – my ovaries acted like forty-year-olds when I was trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties, and they are acting like fifty-year-olds now that I’m in my mid-forties. There’s much that I love about this menopausal time of life, actually – in many ways it is powerful and passionate and liberating … and something I should write more about, now that I think about it. (Who is writing about menopause in the blogosphere these days? I would love to know….) But I’m pretty sure nature did not intend for the mother of a highly sensitive and energetic six-year-old boy to be shepherding her son’s early childhood while her brain is awash in the hormones of menopause. So I’m going to see my doctor soon in the hopes that she can help me figure out how to manage my wildly irregular and intense menstrual cycles these days. At the very least, I’m hoping she can tell me it’s all relatively normal (hypochondria runs in my family, and it’s pretty easy for me to convince myself that Something Is Terribly Wrong).

In the meantime, I’m cooking a lot – a sort of kitchen-therapy that feels calm and contemplative and satisfying on so many levels. I’m loving my Christmas copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, though if I can’t start running soon, I may have to consider cutting back on my butter intake. But cooking feels like the best way I can take care of my family these days, something I don’t always feel entirely up to when I’m in a funk. Tonight, on the eve of Auntie’s funeral – a sad and stressful time for Julie and all of us – Micah and I designed a menu of macaroni and cheese made with sauce béchamel, artichokes in white butter sauce, mussels steamed in white wine and shallots (and butter), baguette from Baker Street Bakery, and left-over apple tart that I made yesterday (I was even late to church waiting for it to bake, gasp! You know that’s devotion to my new French tart obsession – though I did make sure to get there for the sermon, which would have been a terrible shame to miss – Michael’s a little on fire these days).

And now that I have cried on your collective internet shoulders (and having done so, feel much better, thank you!), I’d better limp my sorry butt to the kitchen and clean up the Awesome Mess that a tornado of French cooking can leave in its wake. I’m writing on Wednesday while I wait for the washing machine delivery (we’ve been without for several weeks), so more soon, I hope.

xo m

PS I made Julie read this before posting, to make sure it wasn’t too embarrassingly confessional and attention-seeking. She looked at me with a quizzical expression and asked, “It’s a blog. Isn’t that what a blog is? Confessional and attention-seeking?” The fact that I laughed out loud rather than stomping off to pout – and have posted my confessional attention-seeking blather nonetheless – all points to the fact that I am really fine. Really. In case you’re like me and a bit of a worrier. ;-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia, Julie Powell (2005) [***+] This book has been following me around for awhile. A year and a half ago, when I was looking for decorating inspiration for our newly renovated basement, I found a tiny piece of a robin's egg shell and thought, "This is it!" I set it on a shelf, and when I returned to match paint swatches, I realized the egg shell was exactly the same color as the book it was sitting by -- Julie and Julia. The cover art then inspired the entire decorating scheme of my basement ... but still I didn't read the book, even though Julie (my Julie) had liked it and thought I would too. Then this summer, we saw the movie with our friends Suzanne and Dan, and Suzanne and I were both charmed and inspired. In September we made Beouf Bourguignon for my birthday, and it really is one of the best things I've ever eaten. Suzanne and I have been cooking together monthly ever since. Still, I was not inspired to read the book. A couple of weeks ago, we watched the movie again with Trixie, who loves to cook, and for Christmas Julie (my Julie) got me both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. For Christmas dinner Trixie and I made cream puffs and a pear tart. Yum. When we packed for Ohio, Julie tucked Julie and Julia into the book bag, thinking Trixie might like to read it, but Trix was obsessed with her new Kindle. I thought about picking it up, but started reading the new Barbara Kingsolver book instead. Then a few days ago, while on a date at a bookstore with Julie (my Julie), I started reading Julie Powell's new book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession, and just the first chapter was like watching a train wreck. It was awful, just like a train wreck, and I had to read it, just like a train wreck. But I was restrained, and did not buy the second book in hardcover, and decided instead to read Julie and Julia. Which I did in just a couple of days, and even though I found Julie Powell insufferably self-absorbed and irritating, I have to admit that I laughed out loud often and thoroughly enjoyed myself. You probably know by now that Julie and Julia is the story of Julie Powell's Julie/Julia Project, in which she cooked her way through the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days in a tiny apartment kitchen in Long Island City, and also wrote a blog about it. Many of my friends have found her self-deprecating humor and turning-thirty angst charming and spot-on; I did not particularly. Maybe I've become hopelessly middle-aged and humorlessly maternal, but I just wanted to tell her to quit drinking so much and to clean her house. Also, my Julie clearly was remembering the movie rather than the book when she suggested that Trixie might want to read the book: Amy Adams as Julie Powell is pert and sweet and lovable; Julie Powell as Julie Powell is foul-mouthed and obsessed with her friends' sex lives -- apparently because her own is not much to write home about. Which perhaps explains the train-wreck in the new book. And yes, I probably will read it -- but in paper back, and on the beach. Now I'm off to finish Barbara Kingsolver.